By George, we are celebrating the birthdays of two of our presidents born this month, although in these modern times it’s more about car sales than presidents. We have all heard the stories about our first President, such as how George Washington chopped down the cherry tree and later admitted he did so when questioned by his father (no documentation exists to back this up), or how he wore dentures made of wood (not true, but one set were made from “hippopotamus and elephant ivory held together with gold springs”). One thing is true, for a time George Washington grew tobacco at Mount Vernon before switching to wheat. He also disliked smoking and eventually stopped. And while we usually focus on the Presidents during this month, how much is known about the smoking habits of the other inhabitants of the White House?
Long before rolled tobacco was readily available, pipes were the smoking vehicle of choice for Mrs. Andrew Jackson and Mrs. Zachary Taylor, although Mrs. Jackson died prior to moving to the White House. Although Dolley Madison was said to use a pipe, she preferred snuff and used it in public. You never know when the need for nicotine will hit you.
Eleanor Roosevelt only smoked at the end of an official dinner, perhaps to make the female guests comfortable about lighting up. While many women smoked during this era, many did so in private, so no pictures of Mrs. Roosevelt could be found. That’s not the case with her husband who was famous for his cigarette holder.
According to the National First Ladies’ Library, Mamie Eisenhower was a smoker as was her husband, Ike; her smoking was in private and once again pictures would not be found. Her cigarettes were made in her signature “Mamie Pink” with her initials on them. However, it was Ike who had major health issues because of chain-smoking. President Eisenhower was a soldier in both WWI and WWII and received free tobacco rations through the military, but actually started smoking during his time at West Point, often two to three packs a day. By the end of the 1940s, he was up to four packs of cigarettes and was warned by his doctor to cut back to one pack. He quit smoking cold turkey because “counting his cigarettes was worse than not smoking at all.” Ike had his first heart attack in 1955, and a stroke in 1957. By August of 1968, he had had his seventh heart attack and other health issues plagued him.
Jackie Kennedy was a closet chain-smoker who smoked Newport, Salem, L&Ms, Marlboros or Parliaments, depending on which story you read. She was careful to keep her smoking private and asked not to be photographed holding a cigarette as it was unladylike, but pictures can be found. Official White House cigarettes were provided to dinner guests after formal occasions or when people were aboard Air Force One, the President’s official airplane. JFK was a smoker of cigars and a story on the Cigar Aficionado says he ordered his press secretary to buy up as many of his favorite petite Cuban cigars as he could find before Kennedy signed the Cuban embargo.
Times have changed and attitudes about smoking have too. The White House no longer provides official cigarettes to guests and has had a smoke ban since the Clinton administration However, during the recent state dinner in honor of the French President Hollande, one French dinner guest broke that rule as he pulled out his e-cigarette. Considering guests should follow their hosts’ lead, not only did he defy the ban, he broke protocol. Not a very good start to relations.
You can read more about other White House smokers here.